For this lifelong Saints fan, overseeing the marketing initiatives for the franchise is a dream come true
After Coach Mike Ditka’s last season, in 1999, the Saints organization went going through a transition period. At the time, a 25-year-old named Ben Hales sent in his résumé and was somewhat surprised when he ended up landing an entry-level job in the department handling the team’s sponsorships.
“This position I was offered wasn’t necessarily what I wanted at the time, but because things were in flux at the Saints, it was a rare opportunity,” says Hales. “Everyone I talked to about the position asked me, ‘When is a chance like this going to come around again?’ They were right, so I took it.” It was also a time when the NFL business model was changing, and a lot of teams were pushing the envelope in their efforts to generate revenue, which made Hales’ job more vital.
“In the economics of the NFL, much of the revenue is shared among teams and the players, and effectively there are limits on how much a team can market itself on a national level,” Hales explains. “So each team needs a strong, local corporate base to thrive.”
Post-Katrina, more changes in the Saints’ organizational structure opened up new opportunities for Hales to advance. Now, over a decade after he first joined, Hales is the vice president of marketing and development, putting him in charge of sponsorships as well as many other aspects of the Saints organization.
When an organization signs up to become an official sponsor of the Saints, the particulars vary on who the company is and what its needs are. For example, it might receive prime placement on the permanent signs around the Superdome, which the Saints have all the rights to (something that wasn’t the case until relatively recently). The one common thread across all sponsorships is an association with the beloved Saints brand. And of course, a perk for the leaders of sponsoring organizations is Superdome admission on game days, and Patron Saints Players can also fly on the team’s jet for away games.
During games at the Superdome, Hales can be found in the suite of his direct boss, Rita Benson LeBlanc, along with the Saints’ business partners and community leaders. “We’re up there bonding through shared extreme stress and generally great joy,” he says.
In another aspect of his position, Hales negotiates rights deals with radio stations and cable channels and helps them put content together. Programming on Cox Sports TV, with pre-season coverage and shows like Beyond the Huddle, has proved quite popular. Hales is also involved in game-day entertainment and other aspects of operations.
“It’s my job to keep the focus on the people in the front office, the players, coaches, the ownership. The people on the field are responsible for the team’s success,” Hales says. “I’m more behind the scenes.”
One part of his job that gives Hales particular pleasure is his community involvement duties. They entail initiatives like a recent Super Bowl ring raffle that benefited Gulf Coast families affected by the BP oil spill. It was Drew Brees’ idea, and it raised $1 million. Youth programs reach out to schools, teaching students football on the surface but also teaching life and character-building skills.
“Our players during the season get one day off a week, but they often spend it going out in the community. They don’t have to do it,” says Hales. “A lot of teams talk about recruiting players with character, but ownership and our front office here take it very seriously.”
Ultimately, there’s a symbiotic relationship between the community and the team. “After Katrina, people thought about what was important, and the Saints was one of those things. It was the first year we sold out season tickets. True, the team did make it to the NFC Championship that year, but there were no expectations. What happens is the players feed off the pride the fans have and want to win for them.”
Raised in New Orleans, Hales has been a Saints fan all his life. His father is a well-known pediatrician who cared for Ben himself as a child, and now Ben’s two daughters. The elder Hales was also the pediatrician for Ben’s wife, Kendall, when she was a young girl. Ben started dating her during his college years when he was home from Ole Miss. “I told my dad who I was dating and he said, ‘Oh, I love that family!’” says Ben.
Hales cites his father as one of his main inspirations in life. “He can do anything he puts his mind to, and he does it from a really pure, caring place,” he says. Hales is also inspired by his wife who just received a doctorate in physical therapy. A devoted mom of two, her accomplishments are even more impressive because Hales is often out of town.
Working for the Saints may seem glamorous to outsiders but Hales works hard—six to seven days a week in the season—and things don’t slow down much in the off-season. And he says he is no longer impressed by the glamour.
“With the movie explosion here, big stars are coming to our games and sometimes watch them from Rita’s suite. You get used it,” he says. “They really want to come to experience the connection between the team and the fans.”
In his office he has a signed guitar from the reopening of the Superdome when Green Day and U2 performed. Looking over at it, he says, “Well, that was pretty cool.”